21 July 2009The top United Nations envoy to Afghanistan today called for strengthening the country’s justice system, which he stressed is fundamental for ensuring the rule of law and respect for human rights. “The lack of proper access to justice leads to daily violations of human rights and to an atmosphere of impunity,” Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, said at a human rights conference held in the capital, Kabul. “Laws are of critical importance. However, they will only be effective in protecting the individual if the mechanisms for enforcement exist, including a well functioning justice system,” he added.Mr. Eide, who also heads the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), noted that the price for failing to improve the justice system – as well as strengthening the police – include lack of respect for rule of law, human rights violations, corruption and lack of economic development.Addressing the atmosphere of impunity also means tackling the crimes of the past, he said. “If we fail to address past violations of human rights, then we will not be able to ensure future respect for human rights.”The Special Representative said that while the country has made “significant” achievements in recent years and enabled millions to live a better life, much more remains to be done. The ongoing conflict and poverty are two factors which hamper the development of human rights in Afghanistan.“Both hold the development of human rights back. But both also make a broadly based fight for human rights all the more critical,” said Mr. Eide. Another issue that hampers development is the violence against women and their marginalization in society, he said. “No society has successfully developed and put poverty and misery behind without engaging the entire population – male and female.”While applauding the recent signing by the President of the Law on the Elimination of Violence against women, Mr. Eide said the challenge now will be to secure approval by Parliament and then ensure its enforcement. Also vital is for men to stand up more firmly against violence and discrimination, and for the mobilization of women, as well as political, religious and community leaders. On women’s participation, he noted that there are more female candidates standing for next month’s provincial council elections than during previous polls, and said he hoped there would be more than one female member of the new government to be formed later this year. “The problem is not a lack of competence. The problem is a lack of access,” he stated. “The fact that the Afghan Parliament has one quarter female members is a significant achievement. And it will gradually also have an impact on other government institutions. “However, the participation of women should not depend on Constitutional provisions only, but reflect an understanding of the need to bring women more fully into public life.”Mr. Eide added that the 20 August presidential and provincial council elections must be “credible, inclusive and fair. We need elections, where all Afghans can cast their ballots. And we need elections, where each candidate can campaign in an atmosphere of fairness.”In this regard, he voiced support for the conclusions of the Media Commission which today expressed concern about violations in the electoral process, particularly the interference of Government officials in favour of one candidate or another. “In the heat of the campaign nobody must forget that these elections are about more than who will win. They are about the legitimacy and the credibility of the governing institutions.”Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative has called for safe passage for humanitarian aid, as the worsening security situation continues to shrink the area of operations available to relief agencies. “Humanitarian actors have come under attack, have died, and supplies have been prevented from reaching urgently needed beneficiaries,” Robert Watkins told a news conference in Kabul today. “We appeal to those parties to allow humanitarian access into those areas so that all in the country can benefit from this international aid.”Last month alone saw at least four security incident targeting humanitarian workers in the country, according to the UN which, along with its partners, is trying to assist millions around the country made vulnerable by natural disasters, lack of access to basic social services, increasing food insecurity and the ongoing conflict. “Because of the security problems in the country, we are not able to access all the people that require assistance – so the issue of accessibility is at the top of our agenda,” said Mr. Watkins, who leads the Mission’s relief, recovery and reconstruction pillar.